Saturday, February 16, 2013

A steering wheel desk - where you do draw the line between personal and corporate responsibility?

I have previously commented that tools are tools, and they have no moral or immoral value whatsoever. Take a very simple example, water. I can praise water and the people who provide water to us, because (clean) water can be used for drinking. At the same time I can condemn water and the people who provide water to us, because water can be used for waterboarding.

Things get murky, however, when a particular tool is clearly targeted for a particular use or misuse.

This morning, the New Media Expo shared a link on Facebook. The New Media Expo shared the link with the following editorial comment:

This takes texting while driving to a whole new level.

The link went to an Amazon page for the Wheelmate Laptop Steering Wheel Desk.

This is a perfect example of a tool that can be used for good or ill. Obviously, the New Media Expo writer immediately thought of an example in which this tool could be used in a bad way - in fact, an extremely dangerous way. But a commenter, Mark Davidson, offered a positive use:

My wife and I each have one. It's a great product. On long road trips, it's much easier to change the baby.

Of course, I'm making the assumption that Mr. and Ms. Davidson park the car before changing the baby.

So what does the seller say about this? Here is the product description:

Introducing the AutoExec WM-01 Wheelmate Steering Wheel Desk Tray - Gray - , featured in our Other Vehicle Parts department. This product generally ships within 2 business day(s) from Pinellas Park, Florida, and weighs 2 pound(s). Attaches to your steering wheel for easy access to a writing and drink storage surface. The Go Office Wheel Mate Steering Wheel Desk is flat for writing and perfect for lunch or a snack. This Go Office Wheel Mate Steering Wheel Desk stores neatly in your car when used with the larger Auto Exec Laptop Car Desk. For safety reasons, never use this product while driving. Easily convert your car into your personal automobile office with the Wheel Mate car desk by MobileOffice.

So the warning is in the product description, in the second to last sentence. I suspect, however, that the warning would be more prominent if I were to buy this product. I'm sure that the company that manufactures the product has encountered a lawyer somewhere along the line - and you know what any lawyer would advise for the product instructions and packaging.

However, for some people, the dangers clearly outweigh the benefits. Because of the danger of someone misusing the steering wheel desk, I'm sure that some people would suggest that the product be banned. Where do you draw the line?

Some people (particularly those who belong to an organization with the initials M.A.D.D.) may have similar feelings about other potentially dangerous activities. M.A.D.D. supports various legislative endeavors, including one to "support a stronger child endangerment law." Specifically, the following is advocated:

In 2004, MADD issued a child endangerment report outlining a number of science-based solutions that should be taken to help stop of DUI/DWI child endangerment:

- Adding administrative license revocation/suspension as a sanction
- Requiring alcohol/drug assessment and treatment (if necessary)
- Requiring the use of an ignition interlock device by offenders
- Considering the offense of DUI child endangerment to be a felony
- Eliminating eligibility of offenders for diversion programs that circumvent a record

Now M.A.D.D. does not go as far as advocating a ban on the sale of alcohol. But some argue that their advocacy results in a de facto prohibition:

By the mid-1990s, deaths from drunk driving began to level off, after 15 years of progress. The sensible conclusion to draw from this was that the occasional drunk driver had all but been eradicated. MADD's successes had boiled the problem down to a small group of hard-core alcoholics.

It was at about this time that MADD began to move in a different direction, one not so much aimed at reducing drunk driving fatalities but at stripping DWI defendants of basic criminal rights. MADD also seemed to expand its mission to one of discouraging the consumption of alcohol in general — what critics call "neo-prohibition."

MADD's biggest victory on this front was a nationwide blood-alcohol threshold of .08, down from .10. But when two-thirds of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve blood-alcohol levels of .14 and above, and the average fatal accident occurs at .17, this move doesn't make much sense. It's like lowering the speed limit from 65 to 60 to catch people who drive 100 miles per hour. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed all the statistical data and concluded "the evidence does not conclusively establish that .08 BAC laws by themselves result in reductions in the number and severity of crashes involving alcohol."

Evidence, schmedivence, some might say. If a .08 BAC can save just one life, isn't it worth it?

But if that is the criterion that we will use, I would propose an even more effective method to combat the deadly dangers of drunk driving.

Ban automobiles.

Such a move would reduce drunk driving deaths to 0, and would provide other benefits besides. After all, cars pollute the air, land, and water; have adverse impacts on human sexuality; and provide terrorist targets.

Where do you draw the line?
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